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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Duluth Paper Apologizes for School-Shooting Cartoon; Cartoonist Unhappy

By Dave Astor

Published: March 31, 2005 4:35 PM ET

NEW YORK A note apologizing for a syndicated editorial cartoon about the recent Minnesota school shootings was posted today by the Duluth News Tribune — to the cartoonist's displeasure.

In the note, News Tribune President and Publisher Marti Buscaglia said: "Some of our readers have indicated they were offended by the racially derogatory nature of Wednesday's political cartoon commenting on the Red Lake incident. Frankly, I agree with those viewpoints and want to extend my apologies to those who were offended during a sensitive time in our region."

The drawing, dated March 25, was created by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson of The Philadelphia Daily News and Washington Post Writers Group. In it, she showed a person holding an "Indian Tracking Guide" while following items on the ground such as a gun, a picture of Adolf Hitler, and a Nazi swastika. "I'm not recognizing these signs," says the person.

When contacted by E&P, Wilkinson e-mailed this response to the NewsTribune apology: "My cartoon was drawn in sympathy with the Red Lake citizens. All it was saying was that the footprints troubled kids leave behind today in the 21st century are not the footprints of anyone's traditional culture. The cartoon boldly bemoaned the violent American subculture that some of our children fall prey to. I would have appreciated the chance to explain that to the one reader whose letter was published and to anyone at the paper who had cared to get my side of the story."

Buscaglia's note was linked to by the Poynter Institute's Romenesko Web site.

Rob's reply
We have Wilkinson's explanation of his cartoon, above. Here are some problems with this explanation:

Tracking abilities are an Indian stereotype. They aren't a fundamental part of indigenous cultures. They're a skill, not a belief. Every society that hunts has hunters with tracking skills.

Tracking skills are only one way of symbolizing a traditional Indian culture. Wilkinson could've chosen many other ways to symbolize the culture. He chose tracking skills because he wanted to show an Indian searching for clues but missing them. The clues are in plain sight, literally before the Indian's nose, but he states he can't recognize them.

This choice isn't neutral, it's negative. The Indian's traditional culture, represented by tracking skills, failed to detect the clues leading to the murder/suicide. Since the Indian is relying on this traditional culture, one could say he failed too. So the traditional Indian and his culture are to blame for missing the obvious clues.

Wilkinson may not be aware of it, but the attitude expressed in his cartoon is sadly common. Indians "cling" to their traditional culture even when it's no longer relevant. They refuse to join the 21st century, participate in modern society, assimilate. If they remain poor and isolated on their reservations, it's their own fault.

Let's consider an alternate version of this cartoon. The Indians are huddled in a small traditional village represented by tipis or huts (or whatever abodes the Ojibwe traditionally lived in). They're surrounded by a ring of marauding US Army cavalrymen, who circle them malevolently, screaming and brandishing their rifles. The cavalrymen have labels such as "power," "wealth, "fame," "success," "status," "beauty," "sex," and "violence." The Indians look fearfully at this onslaught and hold their children close to protect them.

This cartoon conveys the message Wilkinson claimed he wanted to convey. But it does so in a different way. The Indians aren't oblivious to the threats, which are in plain sight. They've sought the shelter of their traditional culture, represented by the village, but it isn't enough. The pressures and influences of the mainstream culture threaten to overwhelm them no matter how hard they try to protect their children.

This cartoon puts the blame on the external forces, not on the internal ignorance. It blames American culture for its excesses, not Indian culture for its cluelessness. The Indians can "track" this problem just fine. The question is how to fight it, not how to recognize it.

The Hitler and gun references are symptoms of the problem, not root causes. Many parents might've missed them. What most parents don't miss is that their kids face enormous pressures to fit into society—to sink or swim. Be a victor or be a victim, declares one heavy-metal song.

When mainstream kids have good homes, families, cars, and clothes, it's not surprising Indian kids feel jealous or left out. American society is rich and healthy, their society is poor and dysfunctional, and there's not much they can do about it. No wonder these kids feel lost...trapped...hopeless. They're cut off from the American dream they see touted everywhere in the culture and the media.

More on the story

Posted on Fri, Apr. 01, 2005

Protesters criticize paper's cartoon

MEDIA: News Tribune editors pledge change and apologize for a cartoon protesters say was racist toward American Indians.


Duluth News Tribune editors on Thursday told a large group of demonstrators the newspaper will be more sensitive to the concerns of minorities.

Eighty or more people demonstrated in front of the newspaper protesting a Wednesday editorial cartoon they found offensive to American Indians.

"The media are perpetuating stereotypes of American Indians," Duluth American Indian Commission member Evie Tanner said in a letter to the editor. At the demonstration, Tanner said she was repulsed by the cartoon.

"We want more reporting on the good that American Indian people do," she said.

Tanner and representatives of the local American Indian community met with Executive Editor Rob Karwath and Editorial Page Editor Robin Washington after the demonstration.

"I feel confident they understand where the community is coming from," Tanner said after the meeting. "They did talk about cultural-comprehension training for the staff."

"We all have our blind spots," Karwath said. "We have to make people aware of those blind spots."

The cartoon, drawn by Signe Wilkinson of the Philadelphia Daily News, shows the Red Lake Reservation School in the background. In the foreground, a man with a headband and ponytail holds an "Indian Tracking Guide" as he walks along a path littered with guns, bullets and Nazi symbols. The man says: "I'm not recognizing these signs."

Nine people were killed in the March 21 attack on the Red Lake Reservation before 16-year-old gunman Jeff Weise committed suicide. After the shootings, people who knew Weise said he talked often of guns and shooting people, and a long trail of Internet postings showed him communicating with others about depression, suicide and violence.

Wilkinson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, said she was shocked that some readers took exception to the cartoon.

"The reason I drew it in the first place was I felt deep sympathy for the people in Red Lake who had suffered the loss," she said. "The cartoon was not denigrating Native Americans by any means."

Wilkinson said the message of the cartoon was intended to be about the importance of looking for danger signs in children.

"I don't like looking for those signs any more than anybody else would," she said, "but if a child, a friend of my child, came home with one of them, I would now be pretty much on alert."

Thursday's demonstrators viewed the cartoon differently.

"We're angry; we're hurt," said Wanda Sayers, whose husband, Mike, lost four cousins in the shootings. "I want to believe the Duluth News Tribune would be fair to its citizens. How is the Duluth News Tribune going to hold its staff accountable so this doesn't happen again?"

Red Lake Nation member Renee Vannett said the cartoon was inappropriate.

"People need to heal," she said. "Other people need to be respectful. Use your head when you write something to put in the paper."

News Tribune President and Publisher Marti Buscaglia apologized to offended readers in Thursday's paper. Karwath and Washington attended the demonstration and repeated the apology.

"We screwed up, and we need to do better," Washington told the crowd.

Many called for a more prominent apology in the paper and a promise that something like this won't happen again.

"We're still grieving," Sayers said in response, challenging the paper to work on racism.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related links
Culture kills in Red Lake tragedy
Why white boys keep shooting
The evidence against media violence
Native vs. non-Native Americans:  a summary

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